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How to Shoot Skylines at Night

Austin Skyline at Dusk Dave Wilson
A 3 exposure HDR taken around 9pm. I love the way the long exposure has blurred the surface of the water and the great colored streaks from the lights on the opposite bank.

This is a guest post by Dave Wilson. Circle Dave on Google+.

I took this shot when. I was downtown with a couple of fellow photographers from work and we ended up at Auditorium Shores (in Austin, Texas) just after sunset. The colors on the water of Lady Bird Lake were superb and the sky was just right for great night shots.

Contrary to what you may guess, real night is generally a pretty bad time to try to get skyline photos. since you end up with a completely black sky. The period about 20-40 minutes after sunset is typically the best since the tone of the sky is such that you can get a nice deep blue with the same exposure necessary to expose for the lit windows in the buildings. Too early and the building lights don’t shine, too late and your sky goes black or your lights are blown out.

I did cheat a bit with this one. Its a 3 shot HDR processed to look as natural as possible. The original middle exposure looked pretty good but by going the HDR route, I had more flexibility to balance the light and dark areas of the image and generate a photograph that I am very happy with.

I used exactly the same technique for this photo of Toronto. It was made from the roof of the Grand Hotel in Toronto as the sun was setting. The skyline view from here is fabulous aside from the fact that you can’t get a clear view of the CN Tower (you can find about half of it visible between two other buildings here).

© Dave Wilson
Dave Wilson

The same technique for this one of the Manhattan skyline.

© Dave Wilson
Dave Wilson

This one is from the “Top of the Rock” observation deck in the (tripod banning) Rockefeller Center. This is a 3 exposure HDR shot using a Gorillapod to stabilize the camera while my nice, solid tripod lay at my feet.

Disclaimer: This post is one way to achieve better skyline photos. Combine it with your own knowledge to achieve great results.

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